SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 17, 2013

Indelible Marks These sports moments from the 2012-13 school year will last forever in our minds

By The Salem News sports staff
The Salem News

---- — How does the mind process, and separate, the truly great moments in any given school sports season?

You’re literally being asked to collate tens of thousands of moments witnessed over the 2012-13 athletics calendar, file away those special few that truly left an impression on you, then choose the most everlasting.

It’s not easy.

But we’re professionals here at The Salem News, and we have a job to do for you, our reading public. So here, among the multitude of thrilling moments and remarkable victories, are the half-dozen memories we’ll carry with us for all of our journalistic days.

MORRETTI’S GOLDEN GOAL GIVES SWAMPSCOTT HOCKEY NORTH TITLE (March 9)

By PHIL STACEY

Confession time: did I think the Swampscott High hockey team would win its first ever North title this winter and eventually play for the Division 3 state title at TD Garden? Nope.

In fact, with about four minutes to play in the North final and the Big Blue down by a goal, I turned to colleague Matt Williams and muttered something along the lines of, ‘They had a great season, winning their first playoff game in 44 years and then beating Marblehead. No shame in losing to these guys.’

Little did I know there was still magic to be played out on the Stoneham Arena ice surface that Saturday.

With just 2 minutes and 13 seconds left to salvage their season, senior Chris Carman tied things up for Swampscott with a short side snipe; the play followed a time out, a huge blocked shot in the defensive end by Robert Serino and an up-ice pass from Trevor Massey to Carman for the game-tying tally. The Swampscott bench and stands were going berserk.

But the best was yet to come. Continuing to put heavy pressure on the Bucs as the seconds wound down in regulation, Chris Carmody got the puck in the offensive zone and slid a cross-crease pass to linemate Nunzio Morretti. The junior, known affectionately as ‘Nose Face’ after one of his favorite Boston Bruins (Brad Marchand), took the pass and rifled it past the goaltender with just 6.2 seconds remaining for a 3-2 victory. It was the biggest goal, and biggest win (at the time) in Swampscott hockey history.

More than the goal, here’s what I’ll remember most: Morretti’s unabashed outpouring of raw emotion, first following the goal itself and then again when the final buzzer sounded, as his on-ice teammates mobbed him and classmates in the stands went crazy. Near enough to the glass to clearly see his facial expressions, we watched as Morretti shed tears of complete and unbridled joy for what he had accomplished — almost unaware to comprehend the magnitude of it. That look was, to me, the perfect snapshot of what competing for your high school team is all about.

AN UNFORGETTABLE RUN TO REPEAT (March 16)

By MATT JENKINS

It is often said that the most difficult thing in sports is to repeat as champions. The Danvers High boys basketball team probably wouldn’t disagree, but that same group managed to survive six grueling rounds of tournament hoops, fighting through amped up opponents and talented individual players. In the end, the Falcons hoisted the Division 3 state basketball championship trophy in front of many adoring fans for the second straight year at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Danvers’ first title in 2011-12 put the team on the map and brought immediate recognition to then second-year coach John Walsh. This past winter, the title belonged to four DHS seniors who permanently etched their names into program history. Never again will a great basketball class pass through the Danvers High Fieldhouse without having to stand up to the lofty accomplishments of Eric Martin, Nick McKenna, Nick Bates and Danny Connors. That quartet logged major minutes over the past two seasons and guided the Falcons to a 45-6 record during that time.

With timely contributions and constant leadership from four more seniors — Duncan d’Hemecourt, Jake Cawlina, Justin Woodbury and Evan Eldridge — plus stunning three-point shooting from sophomore Vinny Clifford and energy, effort and athleticism from junior Kieran Beck, the Falcons were a force to be reckoned with.

Pinpointing specific moments from Danvers’ run to repeat is easy. There was Clifford catching fire in the second half of the Falcons’ win over Whittier in the North semifinals; Cawlina coming off the bench to knock down three big three-pointers, then Beck stepping in for a steal in the waning moments of their 57-52 victory over Wayland in the North final; or, Martin hitting an awkward foul-line jumper with the shot clock winding down in the final minutes of Danvers’ narrow 50-47 state semifinal win over Martha’s Vineyard at Boston’s TD Garden.

It’s probably best to look back at Danvers’ 66-50 title-clinching victory over Smith Academy to sum up the Falcons’ run, though. This determined bunch of basketball players wasn’t about to let its dream of a repeat fall one game short, so they out-worked, out-thought, and out-played their opponents from Western Mass. The Falcons produced more aesthetically pleasing and more action-packed wins than the final, but nothing was more satisfying than getting their hands on the trophy one more time.

FOR EAGLES, THIS MOMENT WAS ABOUT MORE THAN BASEBALL (May 13)

By MATT WILLIAMS

This school year had a half-dozen or more amazing plays: a Johnny Thomas or Brendan Flaherty “How-did-he-do-that?” touchdown, a beautiful Hayley Dowd strike on the pitch, a spin-o-rama goal by Corey Carmody, or Nicole Woods picking the corner of the net like a sniper.

What sticks out to me about 2012-13 isn’t a marvel of athleticism, but something of a tribute to humanity: Not a play, but a moment.

After the St. John’s Prep baseball team beat rival B.C. High, 3-2 on a walk-off homer by senior Dave Bornstein in the ninth inning, Eagles Hall of Famer Pete Frates crossed home plate with his arms in the air. The team was gathered in right field, celebrating a win to clinch the Catholic Conference title, and if you blinked you’d have missed it.

What that moment symbolized, though, went well beyond nine innings, three bases, home plate and the seamed leather ball.

The Eagles, who set a program record by winning 22 straight games, wore special ‘Strike Out ALS’ uniforms for much of the season to honor Frates and his battle against Lou Gehrig’s disease. They debuted them before a win over Malden Catholic in April, and presented Frates with a check to help support his No. 3 Fund.

It was marvelous to watch this year’s Prep baseball embrace Frates, who was a regular at their home games and sent the team a good luck video message from his honeymoon in Turks and Caicos before their Division 1 North semifinal against Peabody. They look at Frates as a teammate and a brother in need of support, and not just an older guy who used to play at St. John’s; the bond between him and team was genuine. For a bunch of 16, 17, and 18-year-old kids to grasp what it means to fight ALS is a credit to their maturity, to Frates’ incredible personality, and to coaches Pat Yanchus, Dan Letarte and Ryan Leahy.

Just about every time they took the field, the St. John’s baseball team had Frates’ No. 3 on their shoulders, emblazoned on a red baseball on their alternate shirts. The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season, ultimately fell in the North final and did not win the state championship they craved. By taking spots on the front line in the fight to strike out ALS, though, they proved that they were winners where it counts the most.

MARBLEHEAD FOOTBALL TOPS NEWBURYPORT IN FIRST-EVER DOUBLE OT VICTORY (Oct. 5)

By GIANNA ADDARIO

It’s hard enough to narrow down the best moments of a season, never mind an entire year of sports thrillers.

This year was packed with championships, upsets and personal milestones, but the best 2012-13 memory that tops the charts for me is Marblehead High football’s double overtime victory over Newburyport.

Down by two scores midway through the third quarter, the Magicians rallied to tie the game in regulation, then won it in the second extra session with a touchdown pass from Ian Maag to Dylan Cressy on the game’s final play for a 23-20 triumph at World War II Memorial Stadium.

In the overtime format, each team had four plays to score from the 10-yard line. Marblehead went first and managed a field goal to go up, 17-14. Newburyport followed suit with a field goal of its own and again the scoreboard showed a tie. The Clippers elected to go first in double overtime and were forced to settle for another field goal on fourth down. Taking over with a chance to win it, Maag ran for 2 yards before firing his TD pass to Cressy on second down to end it.

Marblehead came out flat in the opening half that night; even head coach Jim Rudloff admitted that the boys “didn’t have much emotionally.” It wasn’t until Zac Cuzner picked off Drew Bourdeau’s pass for a 50-yard for a touchdown with 4:15 left in the third quarter that the Magicians started their rally.

The contest is believed to be Marblehead’s second-ever OT contest and first such overtime win. It was quite a nailbiter, and anyone who left before the end missed out one of the most memorable, come-from-behind victories of the fall season.

“I’d never been involved in an overtime game,” said Jim Rudloff afterwards. “It was exciting and worth the money.”

THOMAS RUNS WILD, O’LEARY WINS 200TH IN PREP FOOTBALL SEMIFINAL WIN (NOV. 27)

By JEAN DePLACIDO

There are times in sports when one player makes such a difference in a game that fans will long remember seeing it. That’s what St. John’s Prep star running back Johnathan Thomas did to lead his team to the Super Bowl.

On a rainy night at Cawley Stadium in Lowell, Thomas simply took over in the second half. The junior ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns, finishing the night with 208 yards on 28 carries as the Eagles broke a halftime stalemate by rolling over Andover High, 21-0. The victory was also the 200th in the career of Eagles’ head coach Jim O’Leary.

Including two catches for 24 yards, Thomas touched the ball on 21 of the Prep’s 22 second half plays as the Maryland-bound speedster dominated the final two quarters. He was simply unstoppable, running over defenders on the Prep’s 80-yard, nine-play drive, then carrying the ball eight times for 59 yards and crashing in from a yard out late in the third quarter to give St. John’s all the points it would need.

Thomas followed that up by rushing eight times, catching a pass and capping an impressive drive with a 19-yard TD run before finishing off the Golden Eagles with a 48-yard romp into the end zone.

While doing it all offensively, Thomas also made a huge contribution at linebacker in shutting down Andover’s attack.

“He’s a beast. He was running over 2-3 guys every time,” said Prep senior defensive end Tucker Mathers after the game.

PEABODY BOYS LACROSSE BEATS SALEM IN WILD OVERTIME GAME (MAY 21)

By DAN HARRISON

I didn’t have to go back far to find my favorite moment from this past season. The excitement and the symmetry of Peabody’s 16-15 OT win under the lights on Senior Night made this clash of Northeastern Conference foes stick out in my mind.

The game had it all: sudden death overtime; a duel between two of the top attackmen in the conference (Peabody’s Kiefer Heckman and Salem’s Chad Coelho); and great, heart-stopping saves made by both goalkeepers.

Heckman (5 goals, 3 assists) and Coelho (8 goals) tried to outdo each other with some extraordinary individual play, but Heckman would get the last laugh when he pumped in the game-winner in overtime.

Peabody goalie Evan Connolly, who had struggled at times during the contest, stopped the Witches’ Peter Slattery on the doorstep in overtime, leading to Heckman’s heroics. Salem keeper Will Meadowcroft also had an off-night, but he too saved his team with a point-blank stop on Josh Fiore with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter to set up Coelho’s game-tying goal.

The teams were like two sides of the same coin. The goalies, the two great attackers and the never-say-die attitudes of both squads showed just how similar the two teams were — both of whom were scratching and clawing for the best possible seed in the East Division 1 Tournament.

Both teams finished the regular season at 11-9 and would bow out in first round of the East Division 1 playoffs. But that doesn’t take any excitement away from what was the best Northeastern Conference bout of any sport I saw all season.